agathokles wrote:This is an interesting consideration. Indeed, in most of AD&D, psionics look just tacked on. In Dark Sun, there was a conscious effort to make them integral in the setting. I think this was part of the later trend, where catch-all settings were not anymore as interesting, and attempts were done at creating more thematically defined ones (Al Qadim, Dark Sun, Birthright).
I sometimes hear people refer to Greyhawk, Mystara, Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms as "generic settings" (as if they are all the same. (Oddly, these people usually leave Blackmoor out of the "generic setting" pigeon hole. Sometimes they leave out Mystara too.)
The 2nd Edition certainly brought in some settings with strong themes (Spelljammer is "D&D in space", Ravenloft is "gothic horror D&D", Dark Sun is "hot desert planet" (as the Magecrammer advert said) and Planescape and Birthright were also worlds with strong central themes.
I don't feel that they were needed because the earlier ideas were not "interesting". The long survival of the various fan communities for those pre-2e settings (and the fact that all the pre-Spelljammer campaign settings have more than 2,000 posts at The Piazza - while all the post-Spelljammer TSR settings up to Birthright have only beaten the 1,000 barrier) shows that those "generic" concepts still have legs.
I think that where settings like Dark Sun come in is "choice". You already have D&D. Settings as radical as Dark Sun allow you to play D&D differently. I think that moving to Dark Sun is as radical as moving from one edition of D&D to another. You get new rules and things play differently. But in the case of Dark Sun, the changes are there to facilitate a new world. They are not just there for the sake of change.
agathokles wrote:It was a good idea, too bad it didn't work from the business point of view (for a long time, it was considered merely a wrong business decision; now I see it more as something ahead of times -- in the era of crowdfunding, they'd have worked perfectly).
I don't really buy into the "too many settings killed TSR" mantra (because I'm hearing from multiple sources that the TSR management bypassed the designers and spent a ton of cash on a lot of weird products. That's cash that D&D put into their fighting fund.
However, I do find it interesting (and maybe a bit disappointing) that if you read down the campaign setting list at The Piazza, which is mostly* in chronological order of publication down to Eberron, we are totally missing the late TSR settings, like Tale of the Comet, Council of Wyrms and Jakandor.
I suppose it is possible
that fans felt that some of those settings "jumped the shark", but I am just getting to look at some of those settings now (after getting fed up with 2nd Edition AD&D and giving up D&D until 3e came out). I think there are other factors there and that the 2nd Edition brand itself had issues that may well have impacted
on the last few settings. Did they get the same level of marking support as earlier campaign settings? They certainly didn't seem to have any sort of support on the WotC forums, when I first came online. If TSR created settings and then abandoned them as they were coming out, that could well have made some GMs avoid looking into running games with them.
But, at the end of the day, the "too many settings killed TSR" claim boils down to a "too many settings is bad for Dungeons & Dragons. But if we look at the 3rd Edition Era we see that the Eberron Campaign Setting was very very successful. I'm not sure if it was "more successful" than the early 2nd Edition campaign setting, but it was clearly more successful than the late 2nd Edition campaign settings.
If you look at Al-Qadim (which was out the same time as Dark Sun and which also played with desert themes) you can see that Jeff Grubb designed it to have a build in ending, so that the setting could be retired without loose ends being abandoned. That worked really well, so TSR had the ability to do things on a tighter budget than Dark Sun got and still make a profit.
WotC seem to want D&D to be a big thing, but I think they could easily have swapped out DDI for some sort of "internal crowdfunding system" where fans of settings like Dark Sun could pledge to fund ex-TSR designers to come back and create Print on Demand books that could be published via Dungon Master's Guild. All the technical stuff to ship books from both the USA and Europe already exists.
The Dark Sun designers came back to make the Dragon Kings project. So the talent is out there and willing to publish things for the fans. WotC would just need to wort out how the money gets split. I would really like to see something like that happen, so that we could see new Dark Sun books.
(I suspect that WotC are going to hold back all the campaign settings until they can push out one or more "big" products themselves, before allowing for "small" products to follow up. I also think they are going to force everyone to use 5e, which might mean that some Dark Sun rules would no longer be appropriate to the core D&D system they would be used with.)